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As we all know there are no live gigs taking place in the immediate future. However, any links to jazz streaming that are deemed suitable - i.e. with a professional approach - will be considered for posting.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

CD Review: Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band (Arranged & Conducted by Vince Mendoza) Begin Again

(Review by Dave Brownlow).

Respected piano master and composer Fred Hersch, together with the brilliant WDR Big Band conducted by six-time Grammy winner Vince Mendoza re-visit nine of Fred’s original compositions in an expertly-played showcase for this “team-of-all-the talents” - this “Manchester City” of contemporary jazz.

The Cologne-based WDR Band, universally acknowledged as a remarkable outfit and described by DownBeat as “one of Europe’s finest large jazz ensembles” are packed with brilliantly expressive players several of whom shine here.

Vince Mendoza, a world-renowned composer and arranger in jazz and contemporary music, has, so far in his career, received six Grammy awards and 33 nominations! His warm colourful scores contain many ‘devices and techniques’ first pioneered by The Maestro Gil Evans in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s which enhance and develop Fred Hersch’s themes and attractive playing judiciously and appropriately.

Begin Again, previously unrecorded, a flowing theme cleverly conceived to incorporate numerous ‘time changes’ has piano and orchestra alternately leading towards a forthright alto solo from Johan Horlen, an imaginative contribution from Hersch and a call-and-response segment before the final theme statement.

Song Without Words #2: Ballad from a 2001 project has a tender melody backed by tightly Harmon-muted trumpets and an emotional alto solo, again from Horlen. The background figures are a delight in themselves and Mendoza illustrates the arranger’s craft at its highest level.

Havana, from 2012, is a spritely romp through familiar-sounding chord changes; a confident contemporary-style tenor solo from Paul Heller is a feature here before the band takes it out in an exuberant coda. Out Someplace (Blues For Matthew Shepard) comes from 1999 – originally a dance score to illustrate the brutal murder of Shepard and how he must have felt in the lead-up to his lonely death. Eerie avante-garde sounds attempt to convey the sadness and pain of this complex scenario…Mendoza here uses his imagination to utilise the vast aural resources of the WDR ensemble.

Pastorale first appeared in 2011 as a homage to Schumann and the “Scenes From Childhood” pieces which Fred learned as a young musician. This song has one of those chord sequences that ‘everyone seems to know’ in a warm, fluid composition with flutes, clarinets and muted trumpets providing supple background figures as Fred solos.

Rain Waltz (early 1980s) is a ‘classy’ feature for a “Milesean” Ruud Breuls, his warm breathy tone contrasting with the bitter-sweet alto of Karolina Strassmeyer, her only feature. The ensemble takes us out with harmonies reminiscent of “The Birth of the Cool”

The Big Easy (2018) with a nod to New Orleans, is a relaxed swinger, having appropriate solos from Fred, trombonist Ludwig Nuss and trumpeter Andy Haderer to sustain the bluesy groove. Forward Motion from 1991 is a lively, swinging, challenging piece featuring drummer Hans Dekker, tenorist Heller, Ruud Breuls on trumpet and trombonist Andy Hunter. Hersch’s optimistic character shines forth in this music with its driving exuberance.

The final song is a rendition of The Orb from “My Coma Dreams”  as rich, Jarrett-like chords flow reflectively from the piano where Fred’s lovely touch at the keyboard really makes the music ‘sing,’ the ensemble leaving us with a heart-rending chorale – Mendoza’s last, intense contribution.

Wonderful playing throughout, together with imaginative contributions from a ‘stellar combination of musicians’ makes this an “unmissable” album truly worth 5 stars!
Due out on June 7 and available from palmetto-records.com
Dave B.

Johan Horlen, Karolina Strassmayer, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang (reeds); Ludwig Nuss, Andrea Andrioli, Andy Hunter, (trombones); Mattis Cederberg (bass trombone & tuba); Wim Both , Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer, Ruud Breuls (trumpets); Fred Hersch (piano); Paul Shigihara (guitar); Paul Goldsby (bass); Hans Dekker (drums). 

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